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Kiwi Codes in 2021 – what’s changed, and what’s stayed the same?

Women stand in a street

TRA has uncovered and measured the cultural codes in New Zealand, with waves of research over the past three years. 

The Kiwi Codes

  1. Individuality: Religion, gender, sexuality, how you run your household and bring up your kids – Kiwis believe you can do it how you like, just don’t make a big deal of it and definitely don’t force it on others.
  2. Earned Success: For New Zealand to progress as a country we must have individuals that achieve on the world stage. 
  3. Belief in Social Equivalence: For the most part we know we live in a fair, moral and non-hierarchical society. But Kiwis believe that there’s room for improvement.
  4. Outward World View: A tension arises from being connected, realised and no longer on the outskirts yet still feeling like a younger sibling of the commonwealth who seeks its more established counterpart’s approval. 
  5. Connection to Nature: While we may not have the chance to enjoy our country’s natural beauty as much as we’d like, Kiwis are anxious to see that it is protected for future generations.
  6. Humour: Kiwis value humour - it is a way to break down barriers and share a laugh, often at our own expense.

From this research, we’ve identified six Kiwi Codes, underpinned by two concepts New Zealanders feel deeply about:

The Kiwi Codes

What is a cultural code?

A cultural code is a deep-seated and largely unconscious characteristic that defines people. This can be at a micro level – the codes that define your rugby club or your workplaces, or at a macro level – the nation you identify with. They’re about identity.

Cultural psychology and theories of cultural determinism underpin the idea that people and culture work on each other in both directions. People shape culture, and culture shapes people. The academic theories around the role of cultural codes focus on streamlining social processes and preserving the integrity and ethnic and cultural uniqueness of national cultures.

This means the codes have to be universal to the group they represent and also enduring. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be deep-seated.

So, cultural context matters

What’s clear is that although the codes are enduring, they evolve as our cultural context changes – once again, at a micro and macro level.

Since we started studying the codes we’ve seen the election of Trump, the UK leave the EU, alongside Greta Thunberg speaking at the UN, and the rise of the Black Lives Matter and Women’s March movements. TikTok has surpassed all other social networks in popularity. Harry Styles wore a dress on the cover of Vogue.

Closer to home the context has shifted, too. After years of a National-led government, Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister. The Christchurch Mosque attack shocked the country. Fifty years on from the founding of the Polynesian Panthers, Ardern made a formal apology for the Dawn Raids.

And of course, the entire world has been profoundly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Kiwi Codes endure

In this year’s Kiwi Code study, we spoke to over 4,000 New Zealanders from all walks of life, to understand how brands in general, and over 50 in particular, are doing at demonstrating the Kiwi Codes.

The six codes are as relevant in today’s post-Covid world as they were previously. The codes are enduring.

We’d expect that – they are steadfast characteristics that define the nation. When we ask which codes most strongly speak to us as Kiwis, humour and connection to nature lead the field.

In this last round of research, the expectation that brands will demonstrate Kiwi humour has strengthened slightly. Perhaps that is no surprise as Kiwis use humour to talk about the hard stuff. We even used humour in communications around Covid. It helps us get through the tough times.

Overall however, for codes that coalesce around fairness, people have the highest expectations that brands will demonstrate the code. And social equivalence is where we see the largest gap between people’s expectations and how well brands overall demonstrate that code.

But more has stayed the same than has changed, we’ve seen only small shifts for each code in how important people think it is that brands demonstrate that code.

kiwi codes 2

What has changed? People’s evaluation of how well brands are doing to demonstrate those codes

As a nation we have been forced to look at ourselves. Self-reflection and self-awareness are dialled up when you're isolated, especially when you choose a path that sets you apart from most of the rest of the world. You have to believe in who you are, and what makes you who you are, to have the confidence and the resilience to forge a different path.

The result is that the bar for brands has been raised. People told us that brands overall are not demonstrating the codes as well as people expect them to. The gap between delivery and expectations is growing with people thinking that brands are doing less well at delivering to expectations to these codes than they were pre Covid.

The codes are universal

Performance on, and expectation to deliver too, the Kiwi Codes is consistent across traditional demographic segments, such as age, gender, region and ethnicity.

But, when we look at people’s overarching MindSets, there are more pronounced differences, giving clues to how we should be leveraging the codes when any one of these MindSets are the brand’s primary audience.

Although there are differences between people with different MindSets, the differences are subtle. There is not one overarching picture. Instead, it is nuanced.

However, as a general rule of thumb, people with a more progressive MindSet tend towards the codes of Humour, Connection to Nature, Individuality and Social equivalence. Whereas more traditional MindSets lean more toward Outward World View and Earned Success.

The least engaged groups are Strivers and Builders.

Why is demonstrating Kiwiness through the codes important for brands?

This study with over 4000 Kiwis and 51 brands is showing that there is a clear relationship between Kiwiness and brand equity (love the brand), which in turn relates to claimed increased brand usage.

Brand influences decision making. It is the emotional component driving what might otherwise seem to be entirely rational decision making. So, what we are seeing here is the power over decision making that a brand has when Kiwis identify it as one of their own.

brand love x kiwi codes graph

How is your brand performing to the Kiwi Codes?

If you’re interested in finding out, register your interest for our 2022 round of Kiwi Codes research.

Colleen Ryan
Partner at TRA
Colleen has a curious and strategic mindset fueled by 40 years of experience in business across Europe, North America and APAC countries. With a fascination and deep understanding of what it is to be human, specifically applying principles from cultural sociology, social psychology, behavioural science, and cultural analysis, she brings breakthrough insights to brand strategy, creative development and customer centricity.

Understand the forces of culture and shape radical ideas

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